Recognising this impending disaster, Malthouse will debut a new event showcasing some of the hoppiest beers in the country on Thursday 8 August 2013 – it is HOPtathalon. 

As an unreconstructed hop fiend and New Zealand’s unofficial “Minister of Hops”, I’m tremendously excited about this development. I’m a huge fan of hops which have been used in beer since probably the 8th Century. Writing in the hugely authoritative Oxford Companion to Beer, Victoria Carollo Blake – a plant scientist from Montana State University – notes:

“Hops are the ingredient in beer that provides its backbone of bitterness, increases its microbiological stability, helps stabilise its foam, and greatly influences its taste and aroma. Hops are the flowers or ‘cones’ of Humulus Lupulus, a Latin diminutive meaning roughly ‘a low slinking little wolf plant’…”

“Some mass market American lagers, for instance, can leave the drinker feeling as if the brewer had just waved a single hop cone over the kettle. At the same time, some craft-brewed beers clearly push the envelope of hoppiness to the edge of human bitterness tolerance, with the brewers apparently revelling in an almost punishing hop character.”

The brewers featuring in HOPtathalon have certainly been known to “push the envelope of hoppiness” and at least one has been spotted publicly “revelling in an almost punishing hop character.”  That brewer is Luke Nicholas, head brewer at Epic Brewing Company, who – in addition to being known as the Impish Brewer [2] – is famous for his exuberant even arrogant use of hops. Luke is a particular fan of US hops and is usually first in line for new varietals.

One of them is a hop variety called Comet. It was created by crossing a North American wild hop from Utah with an English hop called Sunshine. Over at the What We Are Drinking blog, a homebrewer describes the flavour profile of Comet hops which he used in a Saison and an IPA:

“There is a slight earthy gaminess behind the citrus and tropical fruit that may throw off some people, but it still finishes clean and bright.  While I want to say I prefer the Saison to the IPA, I can’t honestly admit that: each beer plays to different strengths in regards to this hop.  The Saison foregrounds the earthy components of the hop (and it is a bit longer in the tooth), while the IPA highlights the complex citrus and tropical fruit aspects of it.  Either way, I’m hooked: Comet is the hop de jour at this house.”

Comet is the feature hop in the brand new Epic Comet IPA (6.2%) which was launched at the recent Auckland Food Show.  I have not tried it yet but it will be the first pint in my hand – quite an achievement given the line-up of hop super brews on offer – and I will be looking to see how the Comet behaves. It has a reputation for being a bit rough and wild but full of citrus fruit and lemon grass notes. Just like the cast of Armageddon, I’m going to bring down a comet.

One of Malthouse’s old friends is back again.  Epic Hop Zombie (8.5%) returns to unleash hoppy carnage on the palates of unsuspecting imbibers. This relentlessly hoppy brew has bold notes of orange, grapefruit and pine over a firm caramel and honey base. It finishes with a persistent, pleasant bitterness which makes it outrageously drinkable. [3]

It is also one half of Epic/8 Wired I of the Zombie (9%). This unusual beer is a combination of 8 Wired i-Stout and Epic Hop Zombie – a fascinating mix of a huge malty stout and a punchy hoppy pale ale. Interestingly, the RateBeer website has these beers as the two highest rated Kiwi beers. In fact, 8 Wired and Epic have nine of the top ten slots between them – only Liberty Brewing breaks up the Luke and Soren Show with C!tra IPA.

My current favourite beer from Soren Eriksen is 8 Wired Superconductor (8.8%). Now, Imperial IPAs are already a favoured style and Superconductor is a beer which I have always loved, but it is tasting particularly fine at the moment.  There may have been a change in the mix of Kiwi and American hops or it may just be an especially good batch.  Whatever the explanation, Superconductor has notes of mango, grapefruit, pine, papaya, toffee, caramel, resin and spice.  I note from the Interwebs that it was recently on tap at the BrewDog pub in Camden.

Another recent collaboration was the Malthouse crew working with Luke Nicholas at the Fork & Brewer to create Epic/Malthouse Hop Reaper (7.4%). Colin the Handsome yet Softly Spoken Scottish Proprietor describes the Reaper as a Cascadian Dark Ale or Black IPA. Luke the Impish Brewer says it is a US-style Stout.  Whatever the correct appellation, it has a hefty malt body and more roasted notes from the use of a number of darker malts. There are still plenty of hops in there of course. 

One of the larger collaboration brews is the Four Horsemen of the Hopocalypse Triple IPA (11.7%).  It was made by “four of the most hop driven brewers in New Zealand” namely Joseph Wood from Liberty Brewing, Steve Plowman from Hallertau, Kelly Ryan from Good George and Luke Nicholas from Epic. It is a rich, golden red beer – plenty of hops but surprisingly sweet in the middle. The flavours and aroma include apricot, peach, orange, toffee and hop resin. One reviewer over at Beer Advocate called it “fat, chewy, boozy” which it is and which would be an equally good description of this author. The Interwebs also revealed that the Philips Brewing Company (from Canada) did a beer called The 9 Donkeys of the Hopocalypse – a 9% Double IPA using 9 types of hops to celebrate their 9th anniversary. 

From Seattle, Washington, USA, the Pyramid Outburst Double IPA (8.5%) is a big, bitter (80IBUs) but unexpectedly balanced ale. Pyramid Breweries [4] describes Outburst as “a high-impact workout for the senses.”  There are five bittering and aroma hops used – Nugget, Chinook, Centennial, Cascade, Falconer’s Flight and Zythos. The flavour profile includes citrus, spice, caramel and toast. 

Luke Nicholas, who has featured prominently in this blog and will likely be at HOPtathalon for several hours, is participating in the Beervana Media Brew contest with Sarah Harvey from the Sunday Star Times. In the contest, a media person teams up with a brewer to create a speciality beer. According to Sarah’s latest article, their brew could be pretty interesting…

“We did a couple of strange things you wouldn’t normally do.  We added two quirky, Kiwiana ingredients: First, jet planes – the gummy lollies.  I love lollies (sorry dentist).  Then, ahem, Steinlager.  We used it as water in the sparging process.  This was Nicholas’ idea – it is after all New Zealand’s beer and I thought it was pretty cool that a craft brewer was willing to see the value in a commercial product. [5] So in went 66 jet planes and 48 bottles of Steinlager.  (Actually it was 47 – I think we drank one.)   And the taste?  Well, it will be up to the judges to decide, but last time I tried it – even from a sludgy tank – it was beautiful and I swear I could taste the jet planes quite strongly, the Steinlager not so much.”

The last word on hops goes to Victoria Carollo Blake in the Oxford Companion to Beer:

“As the flavour and aroma of hops continue to bedazzle craft brewers worldwide, we may now be seeing, after more than 1,200 years of brewing with hops, the ‘hoppiest’ beers the world has ever seen.”

Now, that is a world I want to live in.

Next time, we drink to hop related puns.  Where would the brewing industry be without them? [6]

[1] Every day is IPA Day for me.

[2] “Small yet Evil” for those who have not seen this apt nickname explained fully before.

[3] In my opinion – individual experiences may vary.

[4] Motto: “Quality beers worth sharing since 1984.”

[5] This may not have been his actual intention.  See the part about “evil” in footnote 2 above.

[6] I for one would proudly order a Total Eclipse of the Hop, a Hop Nest Monster or a Sweet Child of Vine though I would struggle with Smooth Hoperator or Hoppy Endings Pale Ale…


Beer Writer
Beer and Brewer Magazine


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